Are we all better now? I’m trying to put my finger on what exactly happened – did we just stop talking about it? Did we think we were cured? Maybe some of us were? Was it that everyone else suddenly seemed like they were doing okay so we pretended that we were also?
As a teenager & a woman in my early 20s, the zines and books I sought out were always written by women and/or queers who wrote about mental health. I was specifically drawn to the personal, because reading about other peoples’ experiences in the mental health system as well as the bizarre intricacies of peoples’ minds made me feel like less of an outsider to zines, punk, queer and social justice communities. I’m not 100% clear on when people stopped being so LOUD about being crazy… and to be honest, it could just coincide with when I became addicted to drugs and stopped reading zines and being a part of any form of community at all. But I sort of don’t think so.
For one thing, we all had different sorts of access to resources. Some people could get shrinks, pills, housing, etc… and some people couldn’t. Some people figured out how to pass in society and get jobs and had to be quiet about their minds for safety reasons. Some people found that their issues were tied into other health problems and figured out ways to treat those root causes. Some people got really into Facebook, which is a whole other topic for a zine.
And then there’s me. I know why I went silent.
It all started when one year, my friend E (the last person I did a split zine with, back in 2002) bought a Slingshot calendar. He opened up to a page in the calendar that gave some tips on dealing with ambiguous “mental health issues.” E, a diagnosed schizophrenic among other things, called me in disbelief one evening because Slingshot was telling him that doing yoga and taking deep breaths were a “better alternative” to his medication
At some point, a lot of radical mental health thought & theory started to become more along these lines – STOP TAKING MEDS! GO VEGAN! GET MORE EXERCISE! STOP EATING GLUTEN! START A GARDEN! GO JOGGING! WEAR TOE-SHOES! Whatever. Basically, the use of medication became SHAMED while primarily able-bodied activities and class-privileged diets & situations were offered as alternatives.
And as a mostly able-bodied person with herbalist friends as well as access to fresh vegetables, I fell for it. Even long after I had access to insurance and meds and was feeling totally nuts, I fell for the whole ‘”If you’re not eating a certain diet or following certain diets, you’re not doing anything to help yourself.” People who were crazy and/or depressed before were suddenly feeling “great” because they did downward-dog pose in a pile of quinoa, and I was getting fired from my job because I couldn’t leave my bed. And shortly after that, I noticed another change – people stopped TALKING about their mental health. This could be a queer community thing, I don’t know… suddenly it was no longer on the table. I overheard shit talk about people being “weird” or “creepy” with no further explanations. People were described as Debbie Downer, and people who didn’t attend parties as much as other people were described as “antisocial.” Talking about having insecurities made you look weak, so everyone pretended to be 24/7 Cool Guy. If you talked about your emotions, you were called DRAMATIC. Who the hell wants to be dramatic? So, I shut up. I tried to smile a lot and just be strong for the sake of helping to keep the conversation good and date, while secretly advocating for the people around me who didn’t have that option of passing. I did a semi-okay job passing in society as a normal girl…. All while my insides were rotting from the stress of still being crazy after all these years.
The hardest thing is how weird everyone thinks you are when you have all this crazy shit going on in your brain and they don’t know that you’re crazy. Like at a crowded party, for instance – people have said I’m standoffish or appear distracted or disinterested… when really I’m just making note of the exits and wondering if anyone can tell that I’m shaking. Other people have described me as being “too much of a social butterfly,” which is something that totally blows my mind.. but then I realize that sometimes I speak a mile a minute when I’m feeling high-anxiety and a desperate need to pass… such as when I’m playing a show with my band and talking to people afterward. I guess it’s pretty possible that people think I’m either really stupid (CRUEL AND CLASSIST MYTH, PS) or just don’t have a lot to add to conversations when in reality it just takes me a little bit longer to process conversations as they happen, and I sometimes have to carefully arrange words and responses in my head before I can form a cohesive verbal sentence. So yeah, I guess I am weird, but it’s because I’m crazy and I am trying to live in the same world as you. In my dreamworld, there’d be more room for me and people like me in queer social settings… but is that me just feeling entitled? And what could I even do to fix it? It’s not just the queer community – the entire world is fucking TERRIFYING for people like us sometimes. And let me tell you – it’s not because we’re weak. I wish any not-crazy person could understand just for a minute how much fucking STRENGTH it takes for me to get through a day of work, a public transit ride, or walking home in the dark alone at night. I am strong as hell.
And yes, I know that putting a ton of chemicals into your body isn’t positivity-fest. They are drugs, & they are created and pushed by huge fucked up pharmaceutical companies with executives that have dollar signs for eyes. They change not only the way our brains work, but they affect our organs, our blood, our sex lives, our periods, and much more. However, some of us would not be able to function or pass in society without medications, and to shame a person for that is ABLEIST, and just plain old fucking ignorant and dismissive.
But that’s just one aspect of why this is flawed. People with different mental health conditions are constantly put at risk for injury or murder by the police, especially mentally ill people of color. The problem is that I think a lot of prescription pill-shaming originates from the idea that there is only one kind of mental illness (depression) and that there’s only one kind of person taking these pills (white, middle-class people). There’s not just one type of mental illness, there is not only depression, not everything can be attributed to diet, there’s not just one class of drugs, and not everyone is safe NOT taking medications… and some of us want this stuff, and feel as though it is helpful. NOTHING works for everyone, and multiple options could/should be explored, including long-term medication use. For example, cutting gluten isn’t necessarily going to suppress someone’s psychotic symptoms to the point where they are able to function day-to-day without risk of harm/arrest/being killed by cops.
What worked for you may not work for others… and when you shame the way other people handle their mental health condition, you’re silencing people. And by silencing people, you’re killing our little crazy fucking community of traumatized women/queers who NEED to talk, who NEED each other to be there listening. In my dream we’re all keeping this conversation going… because we all know that we’re not all BETTER. I’m sure some of us are in better places than we were 10 years ago, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t real and that it isn’t real now. I want nothing more than to open the floodgates. Please write zines again, write books, make art, make comics, write lyrics about how fucking nuts you are. And if that’s too public for you, you could just write me a letter. xoxo